A randomized trial of a screening, case finding, and referral system for older veterans in primary care

Laurence Z Rubenstein, Cathy A Alessi, Karen R Josephson, M Trinidad Hoyl, Judith O Harker, Fern M Pietruszka
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 2007, 55 (2): 166-74

OBJECTIVES: To test whether a system of screening, assessment, referral, and follow-up provided within primary care for high-risk older outpatients improves recognition of geriatric conditions and healthcare outcomes.

DESIGN: Controlled clinical trial with 3-year follow-up; intervention versus control group allocation based on practice group assignment.

SETTING: Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) ambulatory care center.

PARTICIPANTS: Seven hundred ninety-two community-dwelling patients aged 65 and older identified by postal screening survey.

INTERVENTION: The intervention combined a structured telephone geriatric assessment by a physician assistant, individualized referrals and recommendations, selected referral to outpatient geriatric assessment, and ongoing telephone case management.

MEASUREMENTS: Main outcomes were VA medical record evidence of recognition and evaluation of target geriatric conditions (depression, cognitive impairment, urinary incontinence, falls, functional impairment), functional status (Functional Status Questionnaire, FSQ), and hospitalization (VA databases and self-reported non-VA usage).

RESULTS: Intervention participants were more likely to have target conditions recognized, evaluated, and referred to specialized services within 12 months of enrollment, although there were no significant differences in FSQ scores or acute hospitalization between intervention and control groups at 1, 2, or 3 years follow-up. Subgroup analyses suggested improvements in depression symptoms and functional impairment at 1-year follow-up in intervention participants with these problems at baseline, but these findings were not evident at later follow-up.

CONCLUSION: The intervention increased recognition and evaluation of target geriatric conditions but did not improve functional status or decrease hospitalization. Innovative screening methods can identify older people in need of geriatric services, but achieving measurable improvement in functional status or hospitalization rates will likely require a more-intensive intervention than a program involving primarily unsolicited referrals and short-term consultations.

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